Take a peek at a behind the scenes look at the 2017 IBJJF World Masters Event in Las Vegas NV. This is a massive event with over 5,000 competitors showing up over a span of 3 days. Not only do they have the World Masters going on, but they also held a Heavyweight Grand Prix for the top 8 competitors to throw down for a chance to win $40,000 – winner takes all. They have vendors, school associations, food, and free seminars from some of the greatest BJJ players world wide.
I really wish I could convince the Judo community to get on board with making money from the services provided to everyone. That means charging for monthly rates, entry fees for events, seminars, private lessons, and more. As a community, we need to start treating Judo as a business from the grassroots level all the way up to the professional Olympic athletes.
To me, the crazy part is as a group we all want judo to grow in the United States but then again nobody wants to take the responsibility of taking the right steps in order to ensure the growth of the sport in the United States. The Judo community spends too much time coming up with excuses as to why things can’t be accomplished. Or we have all of these big idea conversations when we are in small groups of 1-3 people but when it comes time to get things done, nobody acts. We do so many things wrong with the sport’s organization, such as underutilizing marketing/advertising. We don’t highlight any of our athletes and build them up into professional brand ambassadors. The organization has never used any of the “all star athletes” (present company included) to help raise funds from potential sponsors.
Some of the crazy things to think about when I look back on my career and dealing with USA Judo is this:
- I have never received an invitation to speak to the board directly
- I have only been asked ONCE to appear at a USA Judo Fundraising Dinner…it was at the end of my career and 8 months since my last competition
- I have never been asked to do a photo shoot on behalf of USA Judo so they have images they can use for websites, marketing, or fundraising (The USOC / NBC has taken professional photos and videos but that was only once every 4 years)
- I was never invited to any Junior Level Events to meet kids and help inspire a younger generation
When I was at the 2016 Olympic Games, a week after competing, I was contacted by someone and paid for my time to sit at an event with their donor. Think about that for a second, an organization offered to pay an athlete outside of their own sport to sit and watch an event and “chit chat” with one of their donors. Fundraising is such an important part of getting an organization to flourish. When it comes to fundraising it takes money to make money.
These are just some things that I personally feel are very basic that every organization should be doing. Essentially when the most used lines in an organizations are “we don’t have the funds for that!” Running events like this is a catch 22 because it takes money to make money and an event like the 2017 IBJJF Masters probably cost $250k to run but like I stated earlier there are over 5,000 competitors at a $100 an entry fee. The vendors and booths are about $10,000 each for the event. The money comes back very quickly. I understand that in Judo we don’t have the numbers to run events like this but we also hinder ourselves from growth by not doing the right things to get to the level of the IBJJF.
We have to take ourselves out of the YMCA’s, Boys & Girls Clubs (on some level they are still an important place to get introductory classes in), Churches, and we have to start leasing properties and running schools to make money that instructors can live on. Not just “hope and pray” someone wants to open up a dojo out of the kindness of their hearts. We need an organization to help us become organized and give guidelines on pulling off such a daunting task as well as give us the systems to become successful. What I’m saying is not this crazy out outlandish idea it’s done in Karate, BJJ, Taekwondo, Krav Maga, Catch Wrestling, and much more. If we don’t get on board with keeping up with the times, our sport is going to die off in this country.
The IJF has been moving things in a positive manner inside judo over the last 10 years ensuring that athletes who are successful earn a living and really making sure that the sport is being run as professionally as possible. This is one thing that JUDO has over the BJJ World is a professionally run event by a professional staff. However, it seems that the more the IJF grows the sport the more the United States gets left behind. In order to achieve this higher level of success in USA Judo, hard decisions have to get made and not everyone including myself necessarily has to be happy about it. Think about this, every Olympic Games I fought in has had a different set of rules. No matter how much the world of judo complained about it, the changes were made and looking back on it, for the better. These are the types of decisions we are going to be faced with inside the United States. We can’t make everyone happy if we are going to grow the sport and see it flourish like we have all seen with BJJ, MMA, Karate, Taekwondo and other sports. Parents enroll their kids in karate because it’s a professionally run school. “Judo people” need to stop being afraid of changing the sport, just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s bad.
We have to start acting like adults in this community and not so petty. When we make mistakes or performed below the standard and someone points it out, we shouldn’t be getting angry. We SHOULD be asking how we can be better and avoid making these mistakes again. I have had so many conversations with people 1 on 1 or in small groups where everyone expresses concerns or gives ideas but then nothing ever comes of it. It’s like we purposely drag our feet to slow down progress. It makes me crazy! We could make so many improvements but nobody wants the change, everyone just wants to stay on this amateur and the low budget path that eventually leads to failure.
Here is a list of things we can’t do as a community:
- Provide professional coaches for athletes at the Regional, National, and International Levels
- Curriculums that help new school owners run and structure the programs that generate revenue
- Competition supports and packages to run professional events
- Support athletes on a Regional or National Level to do judo full time
- Support athletes to train at National Training Centers
- Provide employment after athletes retire from making Olympic Teams
- National Training Development plans that shows kids what the organization needs them to do in order to progress to an Olympic and World level
These are not all things that the USA Judo needs to accomplish but things we need to do in the community. I know that some of you are going to read this and say well we do some of it and while that may be true some areas of the country are some much more developed. There are some organizations who fund kids to events and hold seminars but they are held and funded in my opinion randomly and without a standard. Some kids get local funding to go overseas and train or to Nationals and some other things. I know of some International level athletes that have had to use local and regional funding for organizations to fund international competitions and events because USA Judo just doesn’t have it in the bank. For me personally, I never would have made an Olympic Team if it wasn’t for the support of the NYAC! They personally funded and covered a salary for me to treat the sport like a professional. It’s sad that at the end of the day the only reason any of our athletes win on the world stage is that of the added support of the community outside direct athlete sponsorship and not the head of the Organization. This is not to say that USA Judo doesn’t do a lot or provide a great deal of support to athletes. It’s just that the support that they have to offer is not enough to take an athlete and allow them the privilege to be a professional athlete and go on to win an Olympic Medal.
The main reason for this article is not to bash anyone because there is no blame to be placed on one person. It’s to show that there is a level of content within the community of judo and it’s not something that any one person can change but something we need to do collectively. If we can change our mindset and make an investment in ourselves we can hold events like the 2017 IBJJF World Masters here in Vegas. We have all the resources and more to get these things done. But we can’t be lazy it’s going to take real work to get done and we can’t drag our feet! If we want to have a successful team and continue or stellar Olympic Performance we are going to have to start taking this sport seriously and treating it like professionals.
We have to ask ourselves the tough questions and come up with a plan to continue the success of USA Judo that we, as a community, have achieved in 2016. We need to create a standard that forces our juniors and ourselves to be better/successful. That means drawing a hard line and asking the community to back it. We need to stop pointing the finger at each other and start working together and building plans to ensure that Judo is still available in the United States 30, 40 even 100 years from now. It seems that everyone has their own little sand box and if you speak poorly about them or think differently than they do they don’t allow you inside the sandbox. This mentality is a cancer inside the organization and community of USA Judo and needs to stop. Our community is too small to be divided into factions like this where nobody speaks to each other and nobody asks a question or for explanations.
Here is a perfect example of a question that should be asked by the community and we should ask it until we get an answer that makes sense, “why did we make the world funding criteria line on the world ranking list number 45?” What’s the thought process of drawing the line so low on the world ranking list for partial funding? Wouldn’t it make more sense to say, “everyone who has a Grand Prix medal on the IJF tour gets partially funded to the Worlds?” The goal of USA Judo is to win medals and if you have not gotten a medal in the last 12 months on the IJF world stage at the weight you’re entering in, then why would we as an organization pay for you to go? There are so many Grand Prix events that are easy to get medals at if you’re ready to fight the World Championships. It should be an earned position, not a well this is what we want this time type of mentality. The mentality of those in charge will always reflect downward. If the main organizations won’t keep a standard and keep it professional then it’s almost impossible to have the regional and local communities treat it as professionals.
Again, I would like to make it clear that this article is not about bashing USA Judo or the community but to bring to light all the conversations I have had with people on a 1 on 1 basis. Everything in this article has been talked about in person with people from all over the country even board members of USA Judo. I have received good responses from people on the board and all over the country about how changes need to happen. I get responses though like “things are starting to move along” or how it’s this one guy who is preventing things from getting done. Sometimes the flow of the conversations changes to how much people don’t like other people and that’s why the system fails. When in reality when it comes to the judo world there are not a lot of people who just work and get the job done. We have conditioned ourselves to just drag our feet, not take risks, not ask questions and give ourselves a pat on the back when we don’t do well and say better luck next time.
I hope you guys enjoy the video and seeing how a martial arts event can be run in the United States with a community to back and support the organization.